tv CNN Presents CNN June 20, 2011 2:00am-3:00am EDT
>> everything in all country, it's by facebook. >> facebook is your weapon? >> yes. ♪ >> narrator: the world watched in amazement as seemingly overnight governments toppled and dictators fell. >> the best tool, the most fantastic tool we ever had -- internet. >> reporter: behind the facebook pages and cell phone videos are arab bloggers and activists who have worked together for years, waiting for this moment. >> there are bloggers all over the arab world, people interested in technology who exchanged ideas. >> reporter: they became web warriors in a sometimes deadly game of cat and mouse, fighting for the arab spring.
but even now -- >> reporter: what's the helicopter doing up there? are they going to shoot? their dark winter has not yet ended. >> reporter: we tracked tweets through three countries -- tunisia, egypt and bahrain. following the cyber war that incited revolutionary movements across the arab world. the first revolt began here in tunisia where the people overthrew ben ali, a dictator who ruled for 23 years. >> reporter: we are out in front of one of ben ali's homes that's been trashed. the tiles off the sidewalk. everything here has just been
destroyed. >> this is the expression of 23 years of rage. >> reporter: they lit the place on fire. rubble everywhere. they tore out the wiring. obviously completely destroyed. they even knocked out the ceiling. looters had a sense of humor. if you look over here they drew pictures of ben ali on the wall. called him the robber. over throwing the robber was the goal of a handful of bloggers driving the revolution. what's the number one enemy to a dictator? >> freedom of expression. >> reporter: astrobal and slim are two from tunisia at the center of the blogosphere. they offered a powerful alternative. an independent source of information. >> what we are doing is citizen journalists. we write what we need to write, what we need to say.
>> reporter: astrobal is one of the men behind an online newspapers that relies on contributions of readers. >> since the first or second day. >> reporter: the first expose, in 2007 using plane-spotting websites, he tracked the locations of president ben ali's jet. the plane traveled to geneva, paris, london while president ben ali was supposed to be in tunisia. so he created an online video to press for answers and uploaded it on youtube. >> i made the video to show where our money is spending. and i ask it on the video, who is using the president's airplane if it's not the president? >> reporter: who was using it? >> his wife, for shopping. or official travel. it's a question. i don't know. as a citizen, i want him to answer a me.
but he decided to shut down youtube in tunisia. >> reporter: so you got youtube banned in the country through your video. >> sorry. >> reporter: it seems like you're upset about that. >> no. i'm not upset. >> reporter: ben ali's government blocked youtube and any site with information criticizing its leadership. but the questions didn't stop. so did government censorship stop you or any other activists? >> as much as they censor, help anger to be amplified. little by little, they censor everything. >> reporter: enter slim. he's like the special ops team of the cyber army. a specialist in the art of sensors. >> they censor everything. >> reporter: they enable users to be anonymous online.
>> it's like you circumvent the central versus of censorship by using the computer of someone else in the world. >> reporter: the cyber war climaxed two months bf revolution broke out in the streets. through wikileaks, astrobol got american state department cables, detailing ben ali's corruption and published explosive revelations about the government on his website tunileaks. >> they are sucking tunisia. the money of tunisia, the wealth of tunisia. >> reporter: the scale of the corruption revealed on tunileaks inflamed the country. did you read tunileaks? >> oh, yes. >> all of us. after reading wikileaks we
became certain about what was being done in tunisia. >> we have an amount. how much was stolen from tunisia yan people, how they did it. it's a real mafia. it's 23 years of blood-sucking. >> reporter: that the criticism came from the u.s. state department made it more credible. >> what was really new, we discovered that the u.s. is not supporting ben ali anymore. that was really a surprise for us. in the tunisia opinion, even in arabic public opinion the u.s. is supporting arabic dictators. >> reporter: tunisia was ripe for the revolution to move to the streets. when we return, an activist we planned to meet in bahrain disappears. and we come face to face with a
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>> his last tweet is "i get tired from my phone, so i switch it, no need for rumors, please. it is a bizarre tweet, yeah. >> reporter: astrobal will keep tracking the tweets online. casualties here are very real. here in tunisia, the online revolution would move into the streets. one young man, literally provided the spark. to protest government corruption, a 26-year-old fruit vendor set himself on fire in a rural town. the images of his burned body were posted online and instantaneously available worldwide through the internet. >> i heard about this the same day and it was on facebook. >> reporter: and the offline battle began.
lena ben mahenni, a 27-year-old teaching assistant was one of the foot soldiers who would spread the flames. lena, whose father had been imprisoned by the government, was determined to track each beat of the offline revolution online, armed with only a computer and her camera. she drove to the center of the protests in rural tunisia. what finally inspired you to get in the car and drive there? >> the fact that the traditional media wasn't doing their job. they were either hiding reality or telling lies. >> reporter: the reality was shocking. lena said she learned that the government was opening fire on the protesters. >> when i went to the first house, i just started crying. my hands were shaking. especially when i saw the corpse of a young man of 20 years old.
or so. his family, his mom who was crying. they encouraged me to take a picture. >> so the families wanted you to tell the world what had happened to their children. >> yes. yes. they were saying that ben ali is a criminal, that the world has to know about this. >> and what did you do with the photos? >> i shared them. i put them online. >> reporter: within days, thousands of blogs, tweets and re-tweets turned into hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. but the mainstream media never picked up on the story. was the world at this point listening? >> the rest of the world never reported on what has happened. >> reporter: and how did you get the world to care about this and pay attention? >> we didn't do that. it was anonymous. >> reporter: o anonymous, huh? >> yeah. anonymous. i didn't -- did the job of making this global. >> reporter: anonymous is the name of a group of hactivists.
>> any organization involved in censorship will be targeted. >> reporter: retaliating digitally for the real world deaths. anonymous launched a new attack in the tunisia cyber war. >> they have this operation ongoing which is called "operation payback." they use this umbrella to attack governmental websites in tunisia. >> reporter: ben ali's government accused slim of being part of anonymous. >> i was interrogated for five days the last time i was arrested. sleep deprived and they also psychologically tortured me. saying that my family's being tortured, et cetera. >> reporter: were you hearing screams and people being tortured and they told you that was your family members? >> yeah. they told me it was my family, my friends. >> reporter: if slim's online activism got him into trouble, now his digital ingenuity would set him free. >> i communicated my gps position using my phone. and my friends knew where i am
so they took this information and put it on the social networks. >> reporter: your phone kept broadcasting your location while you were in prison? >> yeah. >> reporter: human rights groups pressured the tunisian government, and slim was released. >> social network was important. the fact that my friends and people i don't know which are following me on twitter did get notice and spread the word that i was arrested. technology is really important. >> reporter: the government retaliated against anonymous' attacks by stealing the passwords of activists and deactivating their facebook accounts. >> they hijacked my e-mail account, my facebook account. they hijacked everything. >> reporter: but by then the protests were unstoppable. >> people got rid of their fear and all the people want to share this information. >> reporter: 19 days later, ben ali resigned.
we've been granted exclusive access to get in here and take a tour of what was once considered one of the most significant internet censoring operations in the entire world. the engineers here claimed censorship was a thing of the past. but within weeks of our visit, the director of tunisia's internet agency acknowledged on twitter they've begun to censor political websites. again, slim who had joined the transitional government resigned his post in protest. >> it's really a fight of every day freedom, it is a fight of every day. >> reporter: the revolution here is fragile. but in some places, it hasn't even begun. >> unbelievable. the flat of ali. unbelievable. >> reporter: astrobal just received pictures of where ali was last staying when he disappeared.
>> reporter: this is egypt. weeks after the revolution. there's a fever for change in the land of the pharaohs. every friday, thousands of demonstrators still take to cairo's streets. it's incredible out here how everyone has become a citizen journalist. you see an argument going on over there and everyone's running by with their flip cams to make sure no one gets hurt. then behind us, people are just streaming this live making sure that nothing goes wrong and whatever does happen is documented and then shared to people on the internet.
deep in the crowd, gigi ibrihim is working. >> i'm taking pictures with my camera and my phone and videotaping and tweeting. so i'm doing four things at once and talking to people and trying to understand what's happening. >> reporter: gigi, how many tweets do you send out, average, a day? >> i don't count really. just -- maybe hundreds. >> reporter: gigi's thousands of tweets from tahrir square made her one of the most recognized voices of the egyptian revolution. >> please welcome to the program gigi ibrihim. >> reporter: even bringing her fame beyond her country. also in the crowd in tahrir square is mona safe. >> my online identity on twitter is mona sosh. in real life i'm mona safe.
>> reporter: would you call yourself a twitter addict? >> my friends call me a twitter addict before the revolution so i have no idea. you guess now it's worse. but yes, yes. >> reporter: back at his keyboard, ramy, a computer wizard who uses his skills to stream human rights abuses. >> the main lesson i learn from tunisia and egypt is there is no government in the world that can keep the silence of its people. >> reporter: they are three of the internet revolutionaries, part of the movement that forced president hosni mubarak to step down on february 11th. but long before that day, they were part of a community spread across the arab blogosphere that was plotting change. at the center of the arab spring going on right now there's this group of bloggers from all different types of countries.
how are you guys interconnected? >> online. online. it is really through twitter or e-mails. >> reporter: ramy is in close touch with slim and lena in tunisia. but also online activists in places like syria, and libya. the tunisian bloggers inspired their egyptian counterparts. in egypt, online news spread virally. january 25th would be a massive day of protest. >> at the beginning, january, there was no revolution. it was just a very huge demonstration and it turned out revolution. then many people and individuals did facebook events and pages. inviting people to join the streets and it was spread like that. >> i mean it was incredible. i cried. i was so amazed that how many
people for the first time were in tahrir square. and it was a beautiful scene. >> reporter: but the egyptian government struck back. shutting down the internet. like their friends in tunisia, the egyptian online activists found a way to beat it. >> so we found one of our friends had just by chance had her internet provided by this very small local company. and she opened her place up to everyone. we were about 30 people going over there to get as much information as we want, then using this internet connection. >> reporter: violent street battles raged sporadically over 18 days. ♪ >> reporter: in the end an estimated 840 egyptians lost their lives in the revolution and more than 6,000 people were injured.
finally president mubarak stepped down on february 11th. celebrations erupted across the city. again, all captured live and often streamed. where were you when you heard that mubarak had stepped down? >> i hear people like screaming. i'm like, what? he's gone? i literally drop everything i have. i start hugging and kissing everybody i see. i'm just like -- i was so amazed. i was crying. >> and it was a great moment. really everyone feeling like it's one big family. >> reporter: but the euphoria didn't last. today, egypt's i-revolutionaries
are fighting to keep their new freedoms from being stolen. the new rulers of egypt, the army, are ever present. >> it's like, why do they have to surround us? we're not blocking traffic or anything. it's like intimidation. this technique was used by police before and now it is being used by the army, which is even creepier. >> reporter: the army once seen as a protector of the egyptian revolution, shows signs of acting like the old regime. when we return -- so apparently we have an undercover police officer who's following gigi and in the sunglasses and the suit. [ male announcer ] you know there are germs on every surface in your mouth. but did you know those same germs can build up and form a resilient layer called biofilm? biofilm germs are strong enough to survive daily brushing.
i'm don lemon. here are your headlines this hour. massive wildfires are spreading throughout the western part of the country. red flag warns in seven states. weather conditions are adding up to an extreme fire risk. dozens of fires are burning right now but arizona is seeing the worst of it with hundreds of thousands of acres already burned. a 19-year-old man died sunday in dallas after an overnight party ended with several people in the hospital. rescuers responded to multiple 911 calls for emergencies related to drugs, alcohol and excessive heat. at least 20 people were taken to hospitals and one is reportedly in critical condition. the party ended at 1:30 in the morning when someone pulled a fire alarm. a bulging missouri river was too much for some levees in
missouri. most of several hundred residents affected left their homes but teams went door to door to order the remaining 25 or so to clear out. the river is swollen from heavy rains and a huge run-off from the mountain snow pack. those are your headlines. i'm don lemon, keeping informed. cnn, the most trusted name in news. ♪ >> reporter: i'm with gigi, one of egypt's young internet activists in tahrir square. the heart of egypt's revolution. only what's going on here today has gigi worried. >> this officer is standing right next to my photographer right now trying to intimidate gigi.
she just showed me a picture she tweeted of him last week. gigi says he's an egyptian undercover cop. although we have no confirmation of that. he follows her to these rallies and stands there and tries to intimidate her. gigi retaliates by taking pictures of him to go online. she wants us to kind of stay back so she can get a good shot of him. then post it up on twitter so in case anything happens to her, people know what this guy looks like, also to warn other people, hey, this guy's undercover, look out for him when you're at the protests. soon, gigi is back. >> this guy was there last friday with a walkie talkie. like being part of the police, the military police, pushing protesters. and he's wearing normal clothes, he's looking like a citizens and he has been watching me and i feel it. >> reporter: mona safe and gigi decide to go to another nearby demonstration, demanding the removal of state television. how did you two meet each other? on the internet?
>> no, it was at protest. >> reporter: between demonstrations it's easier to talk. it seems kind of like the revolution here is far from over. >> oh, yeah. absolutely. it's far from over. it is just beginning. this is the -- the easy part was actually taking mubarak out. that's simple, we're not leaving until he leaves. we're not leaving until he leaves. he left. now the revolution begins. >> reporter: today, tens of thousands of people follow these two friends on twitter. so how many followers do you have? >> i now have 12,000. >> reporter: 12,000. >> for me it is a huge thing because before revolution i had 800 people. >> reporter: gigi studied political science in college and has been active online for more than a year. her aggressive tweets and tactics, especially against israel, are controversial and with egyptian authorities she's confrontational. so people are starting to respond to your tweets you post,
the undercover cop who was following us in the rally. what are they saying to you? >> not undercover material at all. this typical movie-like cheesy cop. like i would love to get his name to put it on pigipedia which is the collection of all the pigs and thugs that we encounter in protests. >> you call pigipedia? >> like wikipedia. pigipedia. [ chanting ] >> reporter: mona, who is actually a cancer lab worker in her day job, comes from a politically active egyptian family. she now focuses on the growing signs of oppression in the aftermath of egypt's revolution. so you think that the military right now is targeting protesters. >> yes. we have evidence of that. >> reporter: it began barely a week after mubarak stepped down.
mona documents the stories of abuse. one of those stories happened to someone close to her. >> aesop is a very good friend of mine. on march 9, ali sobe, a young actor, had gone to join a demonstration in the square. >> he heard that the sit-in that was going on for over days in tahrir square was being dispersed by army and thugs. by thugs i mean plain clothes people carrying big sticks. so he ran to check on his friends. >> reporter: ali told us what happened. >> translator: i was taken into the museum off the square and the army cut off all of my hair and then they beat me with different kinds of rods and sticks. and they kicked me repeatedly. >> reporter: so they used tasers? >> translator: yes, they used tasers. they put them on many people. it was going on for several hours.
there were more than 150 people in the arrest. >> reporter: mona helped lead a successful internet campaign pressuring the military to free ali. >> especially with the army violations and army torture cases, the internet is really sort of our only means. >> reporter: the activists have created the tahrir diaries. an online log of testimonies where protesters describe what happened to them. >> you would see that it's not just that they are getting tortured or beaten up, but there is an element of the army trying to break the revolutionaries' spirit. in one of the testimony they said that the officer told they they won't stop beating them up until they say long live mubarak. and for the girls they line them up and ask them who is a virgin and who is not. whoever says she's virgin they got someone, an officer wearing a white coat, to check whether they are virgins or not with the
threat of those who lie that they are virgins would probably face prostitution charges. >> so the girls were forced to take virginity tests? >> yes. yes. >> we asked to speak to someone from the egyptian military but they would only give us a statement denying the allegations. "these cases of torture are false rumors." "none of these accounts are true." "we are in unstable times in egypt, there are thugs loose." but later, they admitted to the virginity tests. saying they were done to avoid any allegations by the women that they were raped in jail. so how can the international media, how can the world trust that what you guys are posting is really what's happening? >> because simply beside posting texts, we are posting videos. it is a video. it's a live stream video. it is called live stream. so how can i fake a crackdown
with the army? >> reporter: as we were talking with ramy, he got a phone call. remember ali abdulemam, the blogger in bahrain we were tracking? rami just got the latest news. >> he disappeared. >> he disappeared on his own? >> we don't know. he disappeared. >> reporter: next, we try to find ali and find a police state. now, we can watch a newspaper, listen to a magazine, curl up with a movie, and see a phone call. now, we can take a classroom anywhere, hold an entire bookstore, and touch the stars. because now...there's this.
>> reporter: leaving egypt, flying to the kingdom of bahrain. our plane was largely empty. you definitely know you're heading into an area of unrest when you are one of the only people on the plane headed to that country. >> reporter: days after the egyptian revolution toppled president hosni mubarak, bahraini citizens took to the streets to demand reform. bahrain has been ruled by a sunni family for over two centuries. the largely shia population has long complained of discrimination. most of the population attended the protests.
the crown prince went on tv calling for dialogue. but when unarmed protesters were kill by the bahraini police, the hopes for reforms dimmed. dozens of tanks were brought in from saudi arabia to quash the rebellion. when we arrived, the streets were silent. we've come across a lot of military checkpoints just driving around here and you see the guys standing there with their guns and they're all wearing masks covering their face. even more disturbing, many of the people we came to bahrain to see had been arrested or gone into hiding. >> hello. this is ali abdulemam. i'm the creator of bahrain online. >> reporter: ali abdulemam's
website bahrainonline was a virtual coffee shop where bahrainis could openly discuss politics and events of the day. until it was censored. just days before we got here, ali, the father of three young children, disappeared. >> he's very loving person. respected person in society. >> reporter: nabeel rajab is a close friend of abdulemam. what is bahrainonline? why is it so feared from the government? >> bahrainonline is a chatting forum that we have and all the opposition, which is mostly shia, is active there. that is disturbing the government because it is the business zest website we have in bahrain. >> i just want to be free in my thought, free in my speech. >> reporter: for years ali ran the popular website secretly. >> everybody thought it is an engine where many people controlling it. it's only one guy. for many years nobody knows, who is the guy behind it? unfortunately, he paid a lot of
price for this activism. he lost his job. >> reporter: ali was an engineer for gulf air, the government owned airline. in september 2010 he was arrested for spreading "false information." >> and i told him just to wait for me, half an hour, i'll call you back and get a lawyer to go with you. i call him in half an hour. he did not reply. from that moment he disappeared. >> reporter: the message went out across the blogosphere. free ali abdulemam. when the protesters took to the streets on february 14th, this was one of their demands. and the royal family listened. >> the moment he get out of the prison he joined the protests again. >> reporter: it didn't deter him. >> no, it did not. i was surprised. those people who came out were tortured very badly. all of them, you could see the mark of torture on their bodies six months later. >> this revolution's coming from the internet.
>> reporter: ali spoke about the torture to al jazeera. >> the falakah is the hardest thing. they put something under your leg and then they just tied your legs. then they put handcuff in your hand and your hands should be like here. then they put you like this. and my face should be like this. and they hit you in your feet and legs. >> reporter: we asked bahrain's foreign minister about ali. we had planned to interview him and we saw online that he had gone missing and security forces had raided his home overnight a couple weeks ago. why were security forces trying to arrest ali abdulemam? >> i'm not sure whether he's one of the arrested or not. but if he was arrested, there must be something against him because it's not the first time he got arrested. >> reporter: hundreds of people had been arrested in bahrain.
many of them professionals. lawyers. teachers. journalists. five of them died in police custody. their bodies showed signs of brutal torture. on may 5th, the government charged ali and 20 others with organizing "a terrorist group," attempting to "overthrow the government by force." but they provided no evidence. nabeel rajab is also president of the bahrain center for human rights which is using social media to document abuses. he says all human rights defenders are targets. >> my house was raided few nights ago. >> reporter: what happened when the police came and raided your house? >> it's not police. it's around 25 masked men entered my house. they just took me to the bedroom, handcuffed me in front of my daughter. and start searching the house.
>> reporter: what did you do when your dad was taken away? what did you do online? >> went right to facebook. >> you went right to facebook and told everyone that your dad had been taken away? >> yeah. >> reporter: we should go inside. because they're obviously looking at this house. when we return -- our own run-in with bahrain's masked men.
>> reporter: the protesters seem to have disappeared from bahrain's capital, thanks to the intense military crackdown. we ventured into another side of bahrain, a side the government didn't want the world to see. to fine out where they've gone. we drove to the shia villages, passing military checkpoints as we left the capital. we're going to hang out with these protesters for a little bit.
this is what the protested looked like today. young boys who had been hit with tear gas. we smelled it ourselves. >> my eyes are burning. felt like i shot a lemon into my eyes. can you feel it in your throat right now. it's hard to breathe. we're just a short drive from the naval base of the united states 5th fleet. human rights advocate nabeel rajab is our guide. so this is the teargas they have been using? >> tear gas comes from here. >> reporter: this is them? >> no. these are either for the rubber bullet or for tear gas, different type of tear gas. >> reporter: the neighborhood looks like a war zone. people spray painted the names of the martyrs on the walls, but then it's been covered up with this white paint by the government. i mean it's everywhere.
>> we don't want to see killing in our country. >> reporter: online, advocates like rajab say security forces have been shooting into neighborhoods with birdshot every day striking unarmed civilians. they've been documenting the wounds on facebook. >> i already remove around 40 from my body in the hospital. >> reporter: this is birdshot. he says the police have been using this to shoot them. they're just little pellets. they get in the body. look what something that small can do. you see where he has them all over. >> they shoot from very close distance. that's why been killing people. this one with one shot, you can hit 20, 30 people at once. you can feel where the pellets are still in his body because he's still too scared to return to the hospital after the military took it over last month. so he got out of the hospital bed and ran away. >> yeah, because he was afraid. >> reporter: doctors and human rights organizations accuse
security forces of using hospitals to identify, capture and torture protesters. oh, my god, what happened to him? >> sound bomb. >> reporter: a sound bomb? that's what he calls a flash bang grenade. they have people wounded every day and you don't know how to deal with them, where to take them. doctors are getting beaten, tortured inside the hospital. nurses getting arrested and beaten. >> reporter: but bahrain's foreign minister denies the government is attacking or torturing anyone. >> the police would not walk into a neighborhood and start shooting people. >> reporter: so they're not shooting into the neighborhoods right now? >> no, no. they won't go and attack a neighborhood unless they are looking for someone. >> reporter: the protesters can't compete with the government's weapons. but they still have the internet. can you raise your hand if you have a facebook account? one, two, three, four, five, six --
>> our gun is facebook. everything happens in all country, it's by facebook. >> reporter: as we travel through the villages, the skies were often patrolled by helicopters. when we reached rajab's home, suddenly, half a dozen military and police vehicles surrounded us. what are they doing? about 20 men wearing black ski masks, some in civilian clothing, pointed machine guns at us. they forced us to get on the ground at gunpoint. they erased all the video they found. then we were taken to a police station and interrogated for nearly six hours before being released. bahrain's foreign minister says our detention is part of the new necessary security in the country. >> it has to be done nowadays during this period of restoring law and order in a way that protects everyone, including your team.
>> reporter: is that unusual for masked men with guns and -- there were about 20 of them. approached us. >> well, it is unusual because the whole situation around us in bahrain is unusual. we have never seen this before in our lifetime. >> reporter: after we are detained, government minders are attached to our team at all times. they do not allow us to film any of the tanks or soldiers. >> come on. how can we not shoot this stuff? >> reporter: our minders tell us there are no protests. >> do they protest? >> what protest? there is no protest. >> reporter: the minders instead bring us to see the nice things in bahrain. they take us to see the mall. >> we're i guess going to go shopping. >> reporter: meanwhile as we were being minded, human rights workers tell us security forces continue to raid homes late at night. taking the opposition away one by one at gunpoint.
and ali abdulemam is still missing. for many of the people we met in tunisia, egypt and bahrain, it appears the so-called arab spring may be losing its bloom. the tunisian government has once again started to censor political content. and in egypt, demonstrators are still protesting alleged torture at the hands of the military. in syria, yemen and libya, government troops have opened fire on protesters, killing thousands. [ screaming ] >> reporter: but this online revolution is still shaking the foundations of some of the